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Aztec Empire

Tenochca, Aztec civilization, marsh land, Tenochtitlan, Aztec Empire

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Aztec Empire, Native American state that ruled much of what is now Mexico from about 1428 until 1521, when the empire was conquered by the Spaniards. The empire represented the highest point in the development of the rich Aztec civilization that had begun more than a century earlier. At the height of their power, the Aztec controlled a region stretching from the Valley of Mexico in central Mexico east to the Gulf of Mexico and south to Guatemala.

The Aztec built great cities and developed a complex social, political, and religious structure. Their capital, Tenochtitlan, was located on the site of present-day Mexico City. An elaborate metropolis built on islands and reclaimed marsh land, Tenochtitlan was possibly the largest city in the world at the time of the Spanish conquest. It featured a huge temple complex, a royal palace, and numerous canals.

After the Spanish conquest, the empire of the Aztec was destroyed, but their civilization remained an important influence on the development of Mexican culture. Many contemporary Mexicans are descended from the Aztec, and more than 1 million Mexicans speak Nahuatl, the native Aztec language, as their primary language. In Mexico City, excavations continue to uncover temple foundations, statues, jewelry, and other artifacts of the Aztec civilization.

Aztec refers both to the people who founded the empire, who called themselves Mexica, or Tenochca, and, more generally, to all of the many other Nahuatl-speaking ethnic groups that lived in the Valley of Mexico at the time of the Spanish conquest. The name Aztec is derived from Aztlan, the mythical homeland of the Mexica; according to tradition, Aztlan was located northwest of the Valley of Mexico, possibly in west Mexico. The name Mexico is derived from Mexica.


For younger readers

Flowers, Charles. Cortes and the Conquest of the Aztec Empire in World History. Enslow, 2001. Engaging and instructive account. For readers in grades 6 to 10.

Stein, R. Conrad. The Aztec Empire. Benchmark, 1995. For readers in grades 5 to 8.

Tanaka, Shelly. The Lost Temple of the Aztecs. Hyperion, 1998. For readers in grades 4 to 7.

Aztec Empire

Carrasco, David, and Eduardo Matos Moctezuma. Moctezuma's Mexico: Visions of the Aztec World. University Press of Colorado, 1992. Aztec history, culture, and thought presented in an overview of Aztec art.

Miller, Mary Ellen. The Art of Mesoamerica: From Olmec to Aztec. 3rd ed. Thames & Hudson, 1996. Good introductory survey.

Smith, Michael Ernest. The Aztecs. 2nd ed. Blackwell, 2002. A revisionist analysis of Aztec life and institutions based on archaeological findings.

Townsend, Richard. The Aztecs. Rev. ed. Thames & Hudson, 2000. A comprehensive history of the Aztec people drawn from standard historic sources.


Fowler, William R., Jr., B.A., M.A., Ph.D. Associate Professor of Anthropology and Latin American Studies, Vanderbilt University. Author of El Salvador: Antiguas Civilizaciones. Editor of Ancient Mesoamerica.

Microsoft Encarta 2009. 1993-2008 Microsoft Corporation.

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